Republicans in the Senate were criticized last week for forming a 13-person group to discuss healthcare reform that included zero women. In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised female senators would be included, inviting three to a meeting earlier this week. "The leader has assured us that at least one of the women will attend all of the meetings going forward," an unnamed GOP lawmaker told The Hill.
McConnell reportedly told Republicans at a lunch this week that anyone could come to the healthcare working group. “He told the lunch that everyone in the caucus, including the women, can come," a lawmaker told The Hill.
The Senate majority leader also publicly said women weren't intentionally left out of the group. "Nobody’s being excluded based upon gender," he told reporters Tuesday. "Everybody's at the table."
Out of the five female Republican senators, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia attended a Tuesday meeting to talk about Medicaid, and Joni Ernst of Iowa was at a Thursday meeting.
However, Sen. Ernst isn't sure one of the five women can always be at the meetings, telling The Hill, "I don’t know that we can all guarantee that. We all have schedules that change." Similarly, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska said her attendance "depends on what the topic is going to be specifically within healthcare."
After the House passed the Republicans' healthcare bill at the beginning of the month, a Senate working group including McConnell, Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and nine other men formed to tackle the issue in the other branch of Congress, Bloomberg first reported.
But in his defensive state, McConnell claimed to reporters, "There is no particular working group because we’re meeting every day. The group that counts, all 52 of us, have lunch every day, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday," referring to the 52 Republicans in the Senate.
The House's healthcare bill, passed overwhelmingly by white men, was deemed the "worst bill for women’s health in a generation" by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. If the Senate's version is going to be any better for women, they have to be involved.
There are only five female Republican senators, but there are 21 total women on both sides of the aisle. Making healthcare reform a bipartisan issue is a whole other discussion, but the gender ratio boils down to this: Men shouldn't be making unilateral decisions about women's health care. Period.
Vowing to have at least one woman at the table is a start, but it isn't enough.